Giant-killing Lloyd Harris serving them up hot in Dubai
CAPE TOWN - South Africa's No 1 tennis player Lloyd Harris is causing a stir on the ATP Tour following recent straight-set wins over grand slam winners Stan Wawrinka (world No 20) and Dominic Thiem (4) - all this while reaching the main draw as a qualifier, who slots in 81 on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) rankings.
On Wednesday evening, world No 33 Filip Krajinovic, the 14th seed, became Harris latest victim. Harris will now meet unseeded Kei Nishikori (41) in the quarter-finals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Harris blew top seed Thiem away, winning 6-3 6-4 on the Dubai centre court. He will return there on Thursday for his showdown against Nishikori, a former world No 4.
Last week, Harris sent Wawrinka packing at the Qatar Open in just over two hours. At this rate, it is just a matter of time before he cracks a top 50 ranking.
Harris' booming serve is at the heart of his success and has become a talking point on the ATP Tour. After defeating Krajinovic, he addressed the media.
"Today (Wednesday), I was serving well once again. It is one of the things I have been doing extremely well throughout the week," said Harris, who is taking all these giant-killing acts in his stride.
"I got down to a quick break in the first set and then managed to turn it around by playing some big and aggressive tennis. I think that helped me through the match."
The fast Dubai courts have turned out to be a factor in Harris’ game plan.
"On these quicker courts, I am getting a little bit extra on the serve," said Harris. "I do not have to force it as much, whereas, with slower courts, you have to go for more power.
"I am serving with a free arm here and trying to hit my 'spot' and it has been working well for me so far.
"The serve has been one of my biggest strengths. Also, a big factor has been that I have been good on the first or two balls after the serve. It is something I have worked hard at.
"When I hit a good serve, I'm aggressive with the next one or two balls. I am trying to finish the point off early and I think that's led to my high percentage of points won off first serve."
Harris is familiar with Nishikori and hopes that confidence will see him through in the quarterfinals.
"Kei (Nishikori) has done some exceptional things in tennis, and he is a really good player," said Harris.
"He is playing well right now, so I am looking forward to the match. I am playing with confidence too and playing well.
"I have just enjoyed two of the biggest wins of my career so far. I will keep doing what I have been doing well and stick to my strengths.
"It is important to adapt to the court and see how it all plays out."
Nishikori had a big win on Tuesday when he defeated fifth-seeded Belgian David Goffin 6-, 7-6(3) on Tuesday in less than two hours. Goffin is No 14 on the latest rankings.
He told the media afterwards that he wants to regain a top 10 ranking this year.